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Daniel 1:1-21: The Blessing of Obedience Print E-mail
Sunday, 02 September 2012

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God will bless those who obey Him.í Is that a true statement? Does God really bless those who obey Him? The prosperity gospel would agree with it. It is a foundational premise to everything that it teaches. ĎGod is in the business of blessing,í they would say. Yet, we do not hold to the prosperity gospel. We believe that it is in fact a distortion of the true gospel and is, therefore, no gospel at all. So then again, do we believe that God will bless those who obey Him? Our Sunday school lesson this morning from ďThe Gospel ProjectĒ said that such a statement is somewhat backwards. Rather, we should say that God blesses us so that we can obey Him. 1  Thus, God does not bless those who obey Him but blesses people so that they can and will obey Him. Yet, we see in countless biblical narratives that God does indeed bless those who obey Him. People obey Him and God responds with blessing. I point all of this out to note that the doctrine of Godís blessings can be a difficult doctrine. It is not necessarily hard to understand what the Bible teaches, it is just difficult to keep it all together, like carrying something that may not be heavy, but is very awkward to lift. So then, one of the questions that we will be returning to throughout our study of Daniel is how does God respond to the obedience of His people?

Before we dive in this morning, we should take some time to introduce the book of Daniel.  The setting for the book is the period of the Exile.  The people of God had rebelled against Him and were, therefore, sent into a seventy year Exile in Babylon.  This is how the book begins.  Look at verses 1-2.  And if you look at the last verse of chapter 1 (verse 21) you see that Daniel was in Babylon for the entire Exile.  Of course, the Exile was no surprise to God.  In fact, it was Godís doing.  Verse 2 says: The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand.  God is in control of the Exile and as the book will teach us, God is in control of those who are sent into Exile, namely Daniel and his friends.  At the outset, we should note that the theme of Godís sovereignty runs throughout the book.  This is not so much a book about Daniel or Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego, or Nebuchadnezzar, or any other human, even though they all have a role to play.  Rather, this is a book about how God is in control even when His people are in Exile.  It is a book about His control over all men and all the kingdoms of men.  Thus, we want to study the book of Daniel in light of what it teaches us about God (like how He responds to obedience).  And as Christians, those believing that all of the Bible points us to the work of Christ, we want t read Daniel in light of Christ.  This morning I want us to consider what happens in the first chapter and then think on what it teaches us about Godís response to obedience.

The Story:

The story begins with Nebuchadnezzarís decision to bring some youths to Babylon for training.  Look at verses 3-7.  The king of Babylon wants to begin educating these young men so that he can use them for his purposes as servants in his court.  He picks out the noble, strong, good-looking, and wise ones to go to Babylon and be trained in the ways of their culture.  In one sense, this is nothing more than the king making them slaves.  Yet, in another sense, it is a good opportunity for these youths to make something of themselves by receiving a good education and beginning on a career in the service of the king.  Remember, at this point, Babylon is ruling over the known world, so Nebuchadnezzar is one of the most powerful men in the whole world.  Being brought into his service is not the worst of things.  Four men who are brought in will be the main characters of the rest of the book: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  They are given Babylonian names as part of their transformation into the new culture.

Yet, Daniel and the others will not follow Ďthe programí in every way.  They make an important decision in verse 8 to not eat the food that the king is providing.  Look at that verse with me.  Why does Daniel refuse the kings food and wine?  The text tells us that he did not want to defile himself, but what does that mean in this context?  Some would argue that Daniel is simply following the Jewish dietary laws.  Yet, there are two problems with this idea.  First, the Law does not necessarily restrict Daniel from eating the kingís food and drinking his wine.  Second, we see Daniel actually partaking of this provision later in the book.  Thus, why, at this point, does Daniel believe that partaking would defile him?  The issue seems to be more about Danielís devotion more than merely what he eats or drinks.  In this new context in Babylon, Daniel does not want to be seen as more devoted to the king and his provisions that he is to God.  He is devoted to Yahweh primarily and ultimately.  Yes, he will serve the king in various ways, but his true devotion belongs to God.  Such will be even clearer when we consider the results.

Will Daniel be allowed to refuse the kings food and drink?  We see the answer in verses 9-16.  Look at those with me.  The chief of the eunuchs wants to help Daniel, but he is afraid that it will reflect poorly on him if Danielís health is impacted.  So what does Daniel do?  He comes up with a solution: let us try it for ten days and see what happens.  The steward agrees and the testing period begins.  So then, what happens?  The text says that after ten days they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the kingís food.  How could this be?  How did they get fat on vegetables?  The truth is, they should have failed the experiment.  They should have been worse off than the others, but they were not.  Why?  Because God blessed their obedience.  God was setting these youths apart even at this point. 

We see further how God blessed them in verses 17-20.  Look at those with me.  God gives them health through the crazy diet.  He gives them knowledge and wisdom.  He gives Daniel the particular ability to interpret dreams, which will be important later on.  God blesses them so much that the king finds them to be ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.  The Lord sets these youths apart.  Not only do they stand out from the other exiles who received the training, they stand out from all the Ďwise mení in Babylon.  God blesses them and gives them great favor with the king.

What can we learn about Godís blessings?

So then, what conclusions can we draw from this story about Godís blessings?  How does He respond to the obedience of these youths?  First, we see that God chooses to bless Danielís obedience by giving him favor with the chief of the eunuchs.  Look again at verse 9.  Danielís life could have ended at this point in the story.  Who was he to refuse the kings food and drink?  Yet, the Lord gave him favor.  The Lord blessed his decision to not defile himself.  Second, God chooses to bless Danielís obedience by giving them a better appearance than the others.  Again as we saw in the story, the Lord gave them health that they should not have had.  One of my commentatorís notes: ďTheir robust appearance, usually attained by a rich fare of meats and wines, is miraculously achieved through a diet of vegetables.  Only God could have done it.Ē 2  Third, God blesses Danielís obedience by giving him knowledge and favor with the king.  The Lord sets Daniel and his friends apart.  The stage is being set for the rest of the book.

So then, as Christians, as those living after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, what can we say about Godís blessings from Daniel 1?  We might be tempted to just make the simple assertion that God always blesses obedience with health, wealth, and fame.  I mean this is what happens to Daniel, so why shouldnít it happen to us?  Or, we could go to the opposite extreme and argue that we are thousands of years removed from Daniel and thus Godís response to his obedience has absolutely no bearing on our life whatsoever.  Well, I think that both of these extremes are erroneous.  Does God always bless us with wealth and fame when we obey?  No, absolutely not.  Yet, does the time and distance mean that this passage has nothing to communicate to us about Godís response to obedience? No, absolutely not.

So then, what can we say?  First, God blesses obedience.  Yes, God blesses us so that we can obey (as was argued in our Sunday school curriculum this morning).  We could never obey God without His first blessing us.  Yet, when He does bless us and we do obey, then He will continue to bless us.  Does this mean that we believe in the health, wealth gospel?  No, we still deny that.  What is the difference?  Everything hinges upon how you define Ďblessing,í which leads to our second lesson.

Second, God sometimes blesses us physically and socially, but not always.  Under the Old Covenant God normally blessed His people physically: their crops grew, they won in battle, they obtained wealth.  In Danielís day, he was blessed by physical, mental health and favor with the king.  Yet, as we have noted, we do not live in Danielís day and we are no longer under the Old Covenant.  We are under the New Covenant that was established by the blood of Christ.  Are we promised health and wealth as members of the New Covenant?  Not in this life.  Yes, there are times when the Lord heals, there are times when He blesses us physically and even socially, but this is not always the case.  Our blessing is promised for the life to come.  When Christ returns we will leave the struggles of this life behind and join Him in eternity forever.

Third, God blesses us for our good (and the good of others) and ultimately for His glory.  We will see this more and more as we work through the book, but let me ask you this question: why did God bless these youths?  Why did He give them knowledge and wisdom and favor with the king?  Or more specifically, why did He give Daniel the ability to interpret dreams?  As we will see, God did this for the good of Daniel and his friends, for the good of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, and ultimately for His glory, so that all would know that He is the Sovereign King.  And this is the same reason why God sent Jesus to save a people from their sins: for our good and His glory.  We believe and are saved, we proclaim to the world the good news of Christ so that they can repent and believe, and God is glorified as the only God who can save His people from their sins.  The Sovereign God of Daniel is the God who has saved us through Christ.  He has blessed us (like He blessed Daniel and his friends) for our good, the good of others, and for His great glory!  Amen.    

1 ďThe Gospel ProjectĒ vol. 1, num. 1 (Nashville: LifeWay Christian Resources, 2012), p.14-15.
2 Tremper Longman III, Daniel NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1999), p. 53.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 08 November 2013 )

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